Designing the ultimate High Latitude cockpit enclosure

Designing a cockpit enclosure that protects you from the scorching tropical sun AND the bone chilling winds of the North Sea, but ALSO lets you trim your sails with ease is no small feat. Here’s how we designed ours.

A large part of sailing is connecting with the elements. But you need to protect yourself from them too. Either from the scorching sun in the tropics, or with the wind chill slowly gnawing away on your stamina, a well designed cockpit enclosure can make all the difference.

I have seen too many comments in sailing groups “just put on a jacket”. Or “just stay at home in front of your fireplace”. Or “just go camping instead if you want a tent”. This attitude is dangerously ignorant at best.

Not to be indelicate, but when I was in Brigade North in the Norwegian Army, I once had to take an open air shit in -37 Celsius (-35F). That’s when it’s so brutally cold your snot has long since frozen, you have to be careful not to inhale too deeply lest your lungs will freeze, and touching metal with your bare hands will rip the skin off your fingers. I know cold.

When you do high latitude sailing, especially when the weather is heavy, hypothermia is a very real scenario; the chill will creep in on you, slowly, relentlessly. Especially during night watch.

Putting on a jacket will not prevent this; putting on a jacket over the thickest fleece you have will. not. prevent. this.

The only thing that’ll save your freezing ass and dulled mind from endangering yourself and your crew is a really good enclosure, a enclosed hardtop, or ideally a pilot house. There is nothing macho or Viking about freezing your nuts off when it can easily be prevented.

Cupping my nuts and keeping warm in the ice during a mid winter paddle in Norway.

As a result, most cruising sailboats in Norway have some sort of full cockpit enclosure; it’s the only thing that makes sense up here, and aside from insulating your boat it will be one of the best upgrades to your yacht you’ll ever make.

Not only will it keep you protected from the elements when out sailing, but in the winter it’ll act as a buffer zone making your entire aft section much, much warmer – and when the sun peaks out, it’ll act as a greenhouse, creating a really nice, warm place to sit and enjoy the scenery, even if it’s literally freezing outside.

And no, the windage is nothing to worry about. Four years and countless Norwegian winter storms later, it’s still standing as if new.

The design features of our old enclosure included a sprayhood on the verge of collapse; a bimini with too flat roof that collected small ponds of water even at the lightest drizzle of rain; poorly retrofitted sides that didn’t properly connect the sprayhood and bimini; a supporting structure in just exactly the wrong place, so that you slammed your hand into it and got raw knuckles every time you used the winch to trim the genoa, and to top it off; the aesthetics of a worn down camper van tent.

In short – it looked like shit, and had a user friendliness on par with a tax return form:

We started the process with making a few sketches and writing down a few bullet points on what was our goal with the enclosure:

  • A sturdy, user friendly, flexible solution.
  • Easy to enter from the sides with big luggage, groceries etc
  • Max shade and max air with a bimini for the tropics..
  • Full enclosure for really nasty days, and to use as a “winter room” when living aboard.
  • Not very dark colour. It’ll reflect more sunlight making it cooler when it’s sunny, and also make it brighter inside when using full enclosure.
  • Possible to sail with just sprayhood, and the rest easily packed away for those mild high latitude summers.
  • Some sort of extended sprayhood, for cold, but nice days.
  • Possible to winch and trim sails easily, even with full enclosure up.

We quickly found three local companies that looked like they could do the job. One was totally overbooked until after the summer vacation, the second had exorbitant rates, so we settled for the third option. Fair enough price, albeit 10,000NOK over what I had put in our refit budget.

Total cost for both the enclosure and matching lazy jack bag was 65,000NOK – roughly 6500USD/6000EUR based on the currency rates in summer 2020.

A crisp, cold and beautiful day in early March 2020, a nice Russian guy called Aleksandr came to take measures to build the sprayhood. Took about an hour, he left, and we never saw him again until months after. Thanks to Covid for that.

On July 22nd 2020 we sailed to Vestre Åmøy outside Stavanger where W-Yachts is located. This time for fitting the cockpit enclosure and building a template for it. We had already made some sketches and had more than a few ideas of what we had in mind, and combined with Aleksandr’s expert advice, we set to work.

Though his project manager was a disaster and a huge frustration to work with, Aleksandr was efficient, accurate, professional, and he had a great way of pitching ideas early, let that simmer a bit, and then come back for a conclusion, so there was never any pressure. The entire process took nearly a full day, including making all new stainless structure and making the custom template.

And instead of a lengthy written description of the details, here are a a load of pictures with captions instead:

Aleksandr at work preparing the enclosure template.
Template nearly finished – just missing a few details here and there.
New enclosure mounted. What a tremendous difference in comfort and aesthetics!
We really love the colour of the new enclosure! It’s called Celestial, in Sunbrella Plus fabric
Sides fully closed. Note that there are two side panels that can be opened and closed independently
A nice pocket in each side to keep your things easily accessible.
The front pane can be rolled down to increase airflow, or to pass stuff through onto the deck.
The ceiling panes allow for checking the sails and trim with ease – yet can be blinded for extra shade in the tropics. The three stern panels can be opened, closed or removed independently, or in one big piece.
Perfect view of the mainsail and trim directly from the helm.
Very easy to trim the genoa, yet stay very well protected.
This configuration is typical for when you’re out in heavy weather. You get great shelter to windward, yet super easy access to your winch leeward.
Lumi rolling away the middle pane in the sprayhood. With the roof up and sides off, and ceiling panes closed, this is the “Max shade, Max air” config for the tropics, instead of a traditional bimini.
Side view of everything but the sprayhood packed away. This is how we normally cruise when it’s really warm in Norway.
Front view with everything but the sprayhood packed away. You can also chose to flip the sprayhood down, flush with the deck if it’s really warm.

So after having sailed with it the past 2 months, how has it been? Absolutely fucking marvelous!

We clearly haven’t tried the tropical configuration in tropical climate thanks to Covid, but everything else works brilliantly, both underway or at anchor or moored. So far there are actually only two things we’d change:

  1. A few loops on the inside to hang up clothes to dry
  2. Grey instead of white zippers and other details, as it won’t look as dirty over time.

We find ourselves sitting up in the cockpit all the time, even if it’s really shitty out there, even if it’s mid winter and freezing, or late in the evening when the night chill creeps in. We just tuck ourselves with luxuriously thick woolen Røros blankets, and something strong or hot (or both!) in our cups, and we couldn’t be happier 🙂

Also make sure to follow us on for the next post in our refit series!


  1. Nice design. Good to see aesthics were also a big consideration. One of the best I have seen. Tried to save some of your photos for future reference, but no go. Would you mind e-mailing, or sending a link please?
    We are in the process of designing a full enclosure for our Oceanis

    • Hi David! Glad you liked it 🙂 It is really weird that you were unable to save pics – did you get an error message or something? I tried successfully on both my computer and cell 😮

      You could always email yourself the link to this post, then you have all the info you need, cause we’re not gonna take this post down any time soon 😉

  2. Hello Sverre,

    Thank you for taking the time to post your experience. The canvas looks great. A couple of questions if you don’t mind, as we are planning new canvas for our Ovni.

    -What diameter tubing did you choose? Adequate?
    -I noticed your dodger window rolls downward. Any particular reason for that choice, as I have only seen roll-ups before?

    Mike h

    • Hi Mike!
      I actually don’t remember dimension. I’ll check on Wednesday for ya 🙂

      Roll downwards gives you an overlaying flap at the top, preventing water leakage 👍

  3. Looks great. Our challenge on our Westerly Longbow 31 sloop is that the mainsheet tracker is aft of the tiller. Any thoughts on achieving what you’ve managed?

    • Hi Charles! I had to google the boat, and I assume it looks something like this pic here

      Two ideas:
      1) End the cockpit tent right in between the tiller and mainsheet traveler. It would give you great coverage underway, and a nice and cosy, albeit shortened, cockpit when moored or at anchor.

      2) Build a hard dodger sturdy enough to put the mainsheet traveler on top of the roof. This means you will have to move the boom fastening further down the boom, which is not ideal when it comes to the leverage…but perhaps a workable compromise none the less

      What do you think?

  4. Hi Sverre,
    Really nice enclosure. I’m in Alaska and I’m doing my best to replicate your design. I am stumbling over the attachment of the enclosure to the dodger. I can’t quite get a clear enough image to determine what the white strip is that the enclosure seems to cover on the dodger. Is it a leather protector with a zipper for attachment? Thanks for any information. Nice job on the photos!

  5. How do you use the winches when the entire enclosure is up? I see what is probably a jib sheet going through a grommet in a piece that sticks out from the side. There is probably a name for that, and I wish I knew it. There can’t be enough room for a winch handle to rotate. Do you just go back and forth and hope you do not need the lower gear?

    • You never sail with absolutely everything up. You open at least the panel over the winch you wanna use so it’s clear 🙂
      Have a look at pic 4 and 5 from the bottom to see typical sailing config 🙂

    • Thank you for a very entertaining and very informative blog. Do you totally remove and store panels below or just roll them up? Any further amendments you have or would like to have? How about the lighting? Would you recommend an even lighter colour?
      Happy sailing!

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